YAOUNDE (AFP) — Cameroon's government said Monday that 40 people died during violence that erupted in several cities at the end of February, raising its official toll from 24.
Minister for Territorial Administration Hamidou Yaya Marafa told journalists that the revised toll includes those who later "succumbed to their injuries" and that 30 of them died in the Littoral province, around the economic capital Douala.
The local Maison des Droits de L'Homme (House of Human Rights) on May 7 said it was aware of "more than 100" dead, but the government then denied this tally and said it had no idea where such a figure came from.
The minister said damage from riots affecting 31 towns in the central African country amounted to 10 billion CFA francs (15.2 million euros / 23.4 million dollars) and that about 30 service stations had been entirely or partly destroyed.
He said that two people died in the capital Yaounde, and the eight others in three western provinces.
Around 1,500 arrests were made and 50 people have been found guilty and sentenced in Yaounde for looting or ransacking property or cars, the government said last week, without giving details.
The trouble -- which from February 25 spread over four days to other towns and the inland capital of Yaounde -- had at its root a strike against a rise in fuel and living costs.
The government marginally cut fuel prices again two days into the trouble, then last Friday announced that it would raise civil service pay and cut customs duties on basic commodities.
Banned protests fused powerfully with political opposition to a proposal that would enable President Paul Biya, in power since 1982, to run for another term in 2011.
Once the unrest spread to Yaounde, the government sent the army on to the streets in strength, while troops patrolled strategic junctions and filling stations.
The economic and political unrest, which cleared city streets of traffic for three days on top of a strike by bus and taxi drivers and road haulage firms, was accompanied by looting, mainly by gangs of youths.
Biya, who rarely makes public appearances, did so on television on February 27, to blame strife on "apprentice sorcerers in the shadows", accusing his foes of campaigning to oust him.
Biya said early in January that a constitutional bar on a third elected term "sits badly with the very idea of democratic choice", and the old guard in his Cameroon People's Democratic Movement now wants it scrapped.
"We can already say there are more than 100 dead," Madeleine Afite of the MDH told AFP last week." News comes in to us every day and we are still checking it out."
She cited one incident alone in Douala which she said had caused at least 18 deaths.
"A group of demonstrators was trapped on the Wouri bridge between security forces stationed at both ends. Many people leapt into the water.
"Eighteen bodies have been recovered by now," she said, adding that fishermen have been "threatened" if they talk.
"I've been told that I've become a target since I've talked in public about the casualty toll. My car was smashed up last night," added Afite, whose MDH is affiliated to the International Federation of Human Rights.
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